recent surge in kidnappings has parents deeply worried in Pakistan.
As of July this year, there were 680 cases of child abductions in the city of Karachi alone.
A flawed legal system that benefits organized crime is one of the key challenges to solving the problem, say activists.
Naeem Sahoutara has this story.
It’s a sunny Sunday morning in Karachi and the Pavilion End Club is buzzing with families.
Some are with their children, and others are holding kites that have photos of their children printed on them.
Asghar Wahid is one of them.
The 25-year-old computer engineer has never been fond of flying kites, but today he is honoring the memory of his missing niece, Rafia.
“She was just two years old when she was kidnapped in September of 2014. It’s been two years now. She must be four years old now,” Wahid said.
Rafia went missing before her third birthday.
It’s been a horrible time for the family, says Asghar.
“The girl’s mother has become a psych patient to some extent. Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night, shouts the name of her daughter, cries and does odd things. The parents are always scared to think about what is happening to her,” Asghar revealed.
Rafia is among hundreds of children, who go missing mysteriously across the country every year.
The victims come from different age groups – from newborns to teenagers.
Today, their parents are flying ‘Kites of Hope’, hoping one to be reunited with their children.
Sabira Rashid’s 14-year-old son, Adeel Rashid, went missing just last week.
“He had his breakfast, changed his clothes, cleaned the stairs as usual and left home smiling. What can I say? I don’t know where is my son and in what condition he is in,” Rashid said.
Pakistan is a
signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC).
But, violence against children is rampant.
In the city of Karachi alone, more than 2,160 cases of child abductions or kidnapping were reported in 2015, according to the NGO, Roshi Helpline.
Muhammad Ali, the president of the group, says the motives are varied.
“If you see the cluster of child exploitation, the core issue is of missing children. A person below 18, who is not in contact with his or her parents falls into the category of missing. Now, what can happen to such children is they may have drowned, they might have been kidnapped, picked up for sexual assault or trafficking abroad,” Ali explained.
Despite law against the abuse of children, Ali says many of the missing children end up as beggars or being sexually exploited.
“If the child falls under the age group of ten years and if it’s a girl, what’s been our experience, is there is a chance she could be kidnapped for sexual assault, and a boy could also be used for the same reason, or for begging,” Ali says.
“Their identity is changed by the mafia of beggars, which operates all over the country in an organized manner.”
In the eastern province of Punjab the national media reports kidnappings of minors almost every day. So, I traveled to the provincial capital of Lahore to find out what’s going on.
It was there that I met the panicked mother of two, Syeda Fatima.
“I spend the whole day worried until my children return home from school. Reports that children are being kidnapped to smuggle out their organs is definitely worrying,” Fatima told me.
“We even went to the school to see what kind of security measures they have. While armed guards are deployed, there are rumors that children riding as passengers on motorbikes are being taken, so we send them to school in a closed vehicle,” Fatima explained.
Rights groups say the rate of kidnappings in Punjab is even higher than in Karachi because Punjab is highly populated, and law enforcement on the issue is weak.
The steep rise in incidents has caught the attention of the Pakistani Supreme Court, which has called for extra security measures to keep children safe, such as employing armed guards at schools in the province.
But Waseem Abbas, the spokesman for the Punjab Children Protection Bureau, says much of the reports are simply media hype.
“In up to 90 percent of cases of children reported missing or kidnapped, they have been recovered. Now, there are hardly 17 genuine cases. So, it’s not like a jungle in Lahore. A month ago, the news channels and newspapers were flooded with such reports, but today there is only one such news in a newspaper. So a hype was deliberately created,” says Abbas.
But these words do little to calm the fears of mother mothers like Syeda Fatima. These days Fatima says, she has even stopped taking her children to the park in fear they might be kidnapped.